A multicultural collaboration between Nigerian and American musicians, Kotoja is led by award-winning bassist, vocalist, and composer Ken Okulolo. Based in the San Francisco Bay Aarea, the 14-piece group creates an uplifting sound rooted in West African highlife, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, soul music, and rhythm & blues. According to Tower Pulse, Kotoja is "a winning combination...an intoxicating brew...a wild hybrid of styles from highlife to juju to soca and reggae." In a review of Kotoja's 1992 album, Sawale, Downbeat wrote "the rhythm is solid and the music genuinely uplifting."
Okulolo formed Kotoja shortly after emigrating to the United States in 1985. A five-time winner of the Nigerian Journalists Association award as "top bassist," Okulolo had previously attracted attention with his bands Monomono and Positive Vibrations in the 1970s, and as a sideman in King Sunny Ade's band in the mid-'80s. A native of the Nigerian village of Aladja, Okulolo was initially inspired by the highlife bands he heard while studying in Anglican missionary schools in Warri. He spent countless hours listening on his shortwave radio to jazz, Afro-Cuban, R&B, and Congolese music. Apprenticing himself to an uncle, guitarist Miller Okulolo, he soon mastered the stringed instrument. Touring with the Harmony Searchers, Okulolo was overheard by a talent scout for bandleader Dr. Victor Olaiya. The talent scout was so impressed that he persuaded Okulolo to relocate to Lagos and join Olaiya's band as one of three bass players. Having secured his reputation with Olaiya's band, Okulolo joined with vocalist Joni Haastrup to form Monomono. Within a couple of years, Okulolo and Haastrup's enthusiastic performances had made Monomono one of Nigeria's most successful bands. In the early '80s, Okulolo recorded his first solo album, Talking Bass, and formed a new band, Positive Vibrations. In 1985, he toured the United States with King Sunny Ade. He became so enamored of the country that he decided to emigrate later the same year. In addition to working with Kotoja, Okulolo is the leader of the Nigerian Brothers and continues to record with Ade. ~ Craig Harris